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Inquisition torture chamber

Inquisition torture chamber (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While the idea of “the Inquisition” was much older, in the thirteenth century the Spanish Inquisition, or Holy Office, was firmly established. This was largely an effort toward national unity (both religious and political); and in the late 1400s Queen Isabella inaugurated the “Supreme General Inquisition” in Seville. The primary purpose of the Spanish Inquisition at its peak was to eradicate the crime of religious heresy. While some scholars believe that the atrocities of the Spanish Inquisition have been exaggerated (particularly the information regarding the number people murdered), others assert that their activities were the result of overzealous bureaucrats who ignored the tenets of their faith; or they debate whether the tactics of the Spanish Inquisition were at all effective. Yet, the idea of wide-spread religious freedom was considered threatening to Catholicism, and at times even blasphemous; while one of the outcomes was indeed a measure of social control. It was officially abolished in 1812. In reviewing the general mechanisms of the Spanish Inquisition, religious dissent was easily suppressed through the following documented processes:


  • Ultimate Secrecy. The Inquisition operated in secret and this especially included how individuals were accused and brought to trial.
  • No right of appeal. The accused could not appeal, and had no resources or ability to gain an acquittal; and most of all, the accused could not question the power of authority.
  • Mere Suspicion. Rumor, innuendo, minute actions, or the slightest offenses could result in arrest.
  • False Testimony. People arbitrarily providing false testimony often condemned people to the dungeons of the inquisition.
  • Arbitrary Persecution. Anyone could be a target for persecution: converted Jews, Muslims (eradicating crypto-Jews and crypto-Muslims), nobles, men, women, children, and even clerics.
  • Confiscation of Property. The Inquisition fueled their operation and royal coffers by taking the property of those convicted.
  • Intellectual Suppression. Inquisitors were known to engage in censorship of the press, and the defamation, banning and burning of books; as well as the surveillance of bookstores and private libraries.
  • Drama of Punishment. Most people were found guilty. Those convicted were often tortured in “judgment chambers” filled with creative machinery and instruments; and/or executed with the dramatic effect (burned alive) of a public spectacle, or confined naked to dank subterranean cells in a horrendous prison.

Recommended Sources:


“Inquisitio: Manuscript and print sources for the study of Inquisition history” at http://www.library.nd.edu/rarebooks/digital_projects/inquisition/collections/RBSC-INQ:COLLECTION

Project Gutenberg “Records of The Spanish Inquisition by Andrew Dickson White,” http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/41733

Scholarly Article:

“An Economic Analysis of Spanish Inquisition’s Motivations and Consequences” by Jordi Vidal-Robert http://www.econ.yale.edu/conference/neudc11/papers/paper_397.pdf